It’s Here..! My Booktime Brunch with Antonia Honeywell on Chiltern Voice

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Thank you so much to Antonia for sending me a copy of the Booktime Brunch Show!

Feel free to have a listen, hear how much #Booklove (I know!), there was in this show, and let me know what you think!

To all the people I tagged in my previous post, have a listen to see what we said about you … (all lovely I promise..!).

Thank you for all the wonderful feedback already, and now you can hear the whole thing..

 

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did doing it, and let me know if you have any suggestions of books we should be talking about for our Autumn and Christmas Special.

Lots of love,

Clare

xxx

Something To Live For by Richard Roper

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Richard Roper: Something To Live For

Published By: Orion Books

Buy It: here

 

What The Blurb Says: 

All Andrew wants is to be normal.

He has the perfect wife and 2.4 children waiting at home for him after a long day. At least, that’s what he’s told people. The truth is, his life isn’t exactly as people think and his little white lie is about to catch up with him. Because in all Andrew’s efforts to fit in, he’s forgotten one important thing: how to really live.

And maybe, it’s about time for him to start…

 

What I Say:

You can see from the photo that is at the top of the blog post, that this is a proof that was carried everywhere with me.  I first started reading it at 9.32 on Saturday 25 May in the quiet carriage on the train (spookily very apt as you will discover!) to London Marylebone.  I am telling you this seemingly irrelevant fact as a way to apologise to anyone in that Quiet Carriage, because it made me laugh – loudly, and I didn’t even care I got tutted at – twice!

The thing is, Something To Live For is one of those books.  You know when you have read something so perfect, that when you meet someone else who has read it too, all you need to do is look at each other and say ‘I know’, with an acknowledgement that you are both now part of that club.  It is the book I needed to read at this point in my year, because it is a fabulous, life affirming novel that made me stop and think about how I interact with everyone and the world around me.

The hero of this story is Andrew.  He works for the Local Council and is tasked with finding if people who pass away alone have any relatives or friends who can be informed.  This means that Andrew has to go into houses that are left in the state when the person passed away.  Some are pristine, and some are not, but all of them contain the life and story of the person, and Andrew has to try and find any connections to others that they may have.

In cases where they don’t, Andrew takes it upon himself to attend their Council provided funerals to make sure that someone is there for them.  As far as his colleagues are concerned, every night Andrew goes home to his wife Diane, and his two children, and falls into the usual mundane domestic routines we all know and recognise. 

The thing is, there is no Diane and no children.

Andrew has invented them, using a complex set of spreadsheets and fabricated memories and anecdotes to make sure that he blends in seamlessly with everyone else around him.

Andrew’s actual home life is that of a man without a Mum and Dad, an estranged and erratic sister called Sally, a dismal flat where his only solace is his model trains (told you it was spooky!), and the online friends he has made in his model train forum.

One day, a new employee called Peggy starts working with Andrew, and a whole new world that Andrew could never have envisaged, opens out before him.  Peggy bursts into his world and Andrew starts to realise he is drawn to her and that maybe he is entitled to be happy. Except Peggy who is unhappily married, believes that Andrew is a happily married father of two. 

In an excruciating turn of events, Andrew’s boss Cameron decides the team building exercise should be a Come Dine With Me experience, with each employee hosting a dinner party at their house. How can Andrew possibly take part and risk his carefully constructed reality come crashing down around him. Should he risk telling his colleagues and more importantly Peggy the truth, and lose everything including her friendship, or say nothing?

This dilemma is intertwined with Peggy and Andrew on their own mission to find a lady simply known as ‘B’ who is in a picture found at the house of one of their clients called Alan Carter. They head off to Northumberland to attempt to trace her, and it is there that away from other people that their relationship changes for ever.

Richard’s writing is pitch perfect the whole way through. His innate skill in making Andrew a character you root for from the very first time you meet him, and the fact you feel every pain, disappointment and glimmer of joy that Andrew does, is testament to his talent as a novelist. It is also witty, clever and filled with passages of such poignant writing on love and loss that it made me stop and re-read them.

I am not ashamed to say that this novel made me cry several times, as Andrew relived his estrangement from his sister and mother, and the awful heartbreaking incident that stopped him living his life. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is simply a light hearted, fluffy novel, because it isn’t. It is a beautifully written story of one man slowly finding his way back to the world he has shut out, and a novel of love, hope and connection.

Something To Live For is a very special novel, that I will insist everyone makes time to read., It has a wonderful, likeable protagonist at the centre, and in a world where we are so reliant on connecting with people via screens, we learn that Andrew and people like him, simply need us to put down our phones and take a minute to look up and speak with the people we might otherwise never see.

I loved it.

Thank you so much to Gigi from Orion for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Rapture by Claire McGlasson

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Claire McGlasson: The Rapture

Published By: Faber Books

Buy It: here

 

What The Blurb Says:

Dilys is a devoted member of The Panacea Society, populated almost entirely by virtuous single ladies.

When she strikes up a friendship with Grace, a new recruit, God finally seems to be smiling upon her. The friends become closer as they wait for the Lord to return to their very own Garden of Eden, and Dilys feels she has found the right path at last.

But Dilys is wary of their leader’s zealotry and suspicious of those who would seem to influence her for their own ends. As her feelings for Grace bud and bloom, the Society around her begins to crumble. Faith is supplanted by doubt as both women come to question what is true and fear what is real.

 

What I Say:

When I think of the word ‘cult’, I immediately think of an American organisation, loud, proud and overt in their operation and recruiting.  Not for one minute would I have imagined that there would be a society nestled in Bedford, hidden behind pristine walls with a beautiful garden that would strive in its mission to convince the world that the Daughter of God was residing behind them, ready to eventually take her rightful place.

That is the belief behind the Panacea Society, a group of predominantly women, who are seemingly quiet and unassuming, and are united behind Mabel Barltrop, wife of a Vicar and mother of four. Mabel has decided that she has been chosen by God to be his Daughter, and that she and the Society need to persuade the Bishops to visit their home so they can open together the infamous box which was sealed by the Prophetess Joanna Southcott who has placed items of great religious importance inside. Then they can prepare for the Second Coming where Mabel can finally fulfill her prophecy.

Mabel has now been reborn as Octavia, and with her devoted disciples, she now rules the Panacea Society, dispensing advice and stringent religious fervour as she sees fit. 

Dilys is the eyes and ears for the reader, we see the Panacea Society through her experiences and day to day existence.  It is not a life punctuated by fervour and passion, instead, the members of the Society seem to live an almost genteel life, united in their unquestioning following of Octavia, and their desire to be present when Joanna Southcott’s mysterious box is finally opened.

Dilys is a young and seemingly unquestioning recruit to the Society, but she starts to wonder what they are doing and why.  As well as the members within the walls of the house, they receive communication from believers who live all around the world, all looking for help and cures for ills from Octavia. She has a productive sideline of sending out pieces of linen that have been blessed by her, as well as a newsletter and healing water, all of which Octavia uses to occupy the increasingly questioning Dilys.

When Dilys meets a young woman called Grace, she is immediately drawn to her, and as they start to form a friendship, Grace decides to devote herself to the Panacea Society too. Due to her social position, Grace is unable to afford to contribute any money, so instead she works as a maid for them.

This is the catalyst for a chain of events which slowly pulls at the very seams of the Panacea Society.  We may believe that this group of individuals are leading a religious and innocent life, but Claire has skilfully and gently pulled us in to their world, whilst at the same time showing us that the very concerns and worries they believe they are immune from, are seeping into the cracks that are now starting to form.

As Dilys and Grace become closer, Dilys cannot hide from the fact she is attracted to Grace, and The Rapture of the title for Dilys is not a religious awakening, but a sexual one.  As she falls in love with Grace, she starts to look at her closeted world with new eyes, and realises that this claustrophobic world may not be all there is.

While Dilys is starting to unfurl from her shell, the rest of the Panacea Society is starting to shift and question the teachings and leader that they follow.  Emily, one of Octavia’s trusted followers, now claims she is possessed by a spirit which tells Octavia and the society what she must do next.  However, Dilys knows that Emily’s sudden channelling of spirits may have more to do with her desire to take over the Panacea Society as oppose to any religious fervour.

Little by little, the foundations of the Panacea Society are slowly crumbling, and they are unable to stop the outside world from creeping in. The seemingly omnipotent Octavia and her closest allies are not only hiding from the outside world, but are also keeping secrets from the rest of the Society.  Behind closed doors and in hushed whispers, allegiances are formed, secrets are shared, and a Mother and Daughter are aware of the fact that the origins of the society are borne out of a spell in a psychiatric institution that devastated their childhood and subsequent lives. When Grace becomes all too aware of what is really happening, she is ‘let go’. Dilys’ love for Grace leads her to finally find the strength to try and live her own life – outside of the Panacea Society at a cost she could not possibly have predicted.

Claire’s pitch and pace of the novel are perfect, as it starts seemingly so innocently and in fact, delighting in its mundanity.  However, as the novel progresses, there are little hints, verbal clues and Dilys’ deadpan observations about the Society that starts to add to the tension and sense that something is shifting and starting to unravel.  The Panacea Society is no longer their safe haven, ready for the Bishops to come and see the Daughter of God. It is a place where lies are told, secrets are shared, lives are destroyed, and vulnerable people are the playthings of the leaders.

The characters are all worthy of a novel in their own right, and Claire writes with such clarity and compassion about them all. However awful Emily might be, or when Octavia tries to implement new commandments as Dilys yearns to be her own woman, you understand that all these people want is to be part of something, to belong to a group which will define them and reveal to them their ordained purpose.

Claire McGlasson has written a novel which examines so many ideas and themes.  Obviously the overreaching one is one of religious devotion, of giving oneself without question to someone else whatever the cost, but it would be naive to only see that.  The Rapture is a story of love and power, of what happens when a daughter like Dilys devotes herself completely to assuaging her mother, until someone like Grace comes into her life to show Dilys what real love is.  It is a story of how Dilys strives so desperately to finally be free and live her life as she chooses, but that for a young unmarried woman after the First World War, freedom of life, love and choice is never ever their own.

The Rapture is not simply a novel about the disintegration of a Society, which is forced to confront its limitations and didactic nature of its leaders.  It is a finely tuned and thought provoking contemplation of how a group of people who unite to seek solace in a belief system, find themselves lost when the idyllic religious Paradise they were promised, slips uncontrollably from their grasp.

I loved it.

Thank you very much to Lauren Nicoll and Faber for asking me to be part of this Blog Tour in exchange for an honest review.

You can see what these other brilliant bloggers are saying about The Rapture by following them here.

Author Picture Of Claire McGlasson.

 

Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

 

Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott: Swan Song

Published By: Hutchinson Books

 Buy It: here

 

What The Blurb Says:

They told him everything.

He told everyone else.

Over countless martini-soaked Manhattan lunches, they shared their deepest secrets and greatest fears. On exclusive yachts sailing the Mediterranean, on private jets streaming towards Jamaica, on Yucatán beaches in secluded bays, they gossiped about sex, power, money, love and fame. They never imagined he would betray them so absolutely.

In the autumn of 1975, after two decades of intimate friendships, Truman Capote detonated a literary grenade, forever rupturing the elite circle he’d worked so hard to infiltrate. Why did he do it, knowing what he stood to lose? Was it to punish them? To make them pay for their manners, money and celebrated names? Or did he simply refuse to believe that they could ever stop loving him? Whatever the motive, one thing remains indisputable: nine years after achieving wild success with In Cold Blood, Capote committed an act of professional and social suicide with his most lethal of weapons . . . Words.

A dazzling debut about the line between gossip and slander, self-creation and self-preservation, SWAN SONG is the tragic story of the literary icon of his age and the beautiful, wealthy, vulnerable women he called his Swans.

‘Writers write. And one can’t be surprised if they write what they know.’

 

What I Say:

‘And perhaps it was then that he had his great idea to seek us out.  To befriend us.  To punish us for a crime we hadn’t the faintest idea we’d committed.’

I had a copy of Swan Song on my shelf which I had bought as soon as it was published.  I had also treated myself to the audio book of Swan Song, narrated by Deborah Weston, and it is divine.  Truman Capote and his Swans burst out of the stereo and into my head, but it wasn’t enough.

I pulled my copy off the shelf and started to read, and lost myself completely in the sumptuous world of Truman Capote and his Swans.

Swan Song is the story of the American writer Truman Capote, and the six women in his life, who provide his social calendar, masses of gossip and scandal, and give him the social acceptance he needs to secure his place in the ever changing, vicious and glittering world he longs to be part of.

There are six women he considers closest to him, who earn the title of Swan.  They are Babe Paley, Slim Keith, Lee Radziwill, C. Z. Guest, Gloria Guinness and Marella Agnelli. He is their confessor, their friend and the one person that gives them unequivocal love and support. Each of them give him something different, and he has no qualms about using them to gain what he wants too. He is adept at flattering and cajoling each of them, to make them feel that they are the most important women in the world to him, and to make sure that they grant him access to the most exclusive social circles and help him become a darling of the social scene.

Swan Song takes us all the way back to Truman’s childhood, and his complicated relationship with his Mother.  From an early age, Truman is determined and driven when it comes to his career, and we also see how his physical limitations and childlike voice are the very things he uses to create his larger than life and eccentric persona.

As Truman becomes more and more involved with his Swans, you understand that behind the seemingly glamourous facades of their lives, they face the same issues and insecurities as we all do.  The real lives of the Swans are laid bare to Truman, and he makes sure he becomes indispensible.  He is always there to accompany them to lunches at places like The Plaza and Le Cote Basque, and to be their plus one at parties and on holiday too.  The women need Truman as much as he needs them.

When he decides to hold The Black and White Party, very quickly it becomes THE social event of the decade. People are desperate to be invited, and will do anything to secure one of the crisp hand written invitations.  Truman’s place as a doyen of society, with his jubiliant Swans at his side, finally seems to be within his reach.

Truman has been riding high on a wave of notoriety since the publication of his non-fiction novel In Cold Blood, and is desperate to ensure he stays in the limelight.  His desire to be loved and adored, coupled with his intimate knowledge of the lives and loves of his Swans, culminates in him publishing the most incendiary writing of his career, but for all the wrong reasons.

His work called Answered Prayers is serialised in Esquire Magazine, and is essentially very thinly veiled attacks on the very women who have helped him get where he is today.  The New York Social Scene has no difficulty in identifying the ‘stars’ of this particular story, which pushes the Swans into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

Truman’s decision to effectively commit social suicide leaves him isolated, bereft, and spiralling downwards in an ever increasing haze of drugs and alcohol.  From being a celebrated and admired novelist, he is reduced to making appearances at the notorious Studio 54, where he is more a figure of ridicule than an esteemed writer. For Truman now, the very women who could rescue him, are the ones he can never talk to again.

There were so many things I loved about Swan Song. Truman’s perfectly calculated detonation of his articles, were so vividly brought to life by Kelleigh.  It is impossible not to feel the devastation of the Swans about what has happened.  You feel their betrayal, their disbelief that the man who had been taken so easily into their confidence could hurt them all so knowingly and deeply.

Kelleigh’s own non-fiction fiction novel is one you simply sink into, and lose yourself in completely. It is a world of privilege, of decadence and beautiful people and clothes, where you were judged by what you wore, who you lunched with and who dressed you.

I think this is one of the interesting and relevant issues throughout Swan Song, that although it is very much of its time, many of the themes around the notion of celebrity, the role of women in society, and how important it is to be liked, and have followers who dote on your every word, is still as relevant if not more so today.

Swan Song may have been published last year, but it will be in my Book of The Year list for 2019.  It is a stunning and revelatory exploration of celebrity and how Truman was desperate to stay relevant within a world which is ever changing and looking for the next big thing.  Once you pick up this novel, it is impossible to put down. The way in which Kelleigh weaves not only the main narrative, but also the stories of the Swans too, is a feat of storytelling that will leave you wondering where the time has gone!

It is so difficult to put into words how much I loved this novel.  I sat with a copy of The Party of The Century by Deborah Davis next to me, because this book is such an immersive experience, you don’t just want to read about the women, you want to see them, to determine what attracted them to Truman.

Kelleigh’s exquisite writing and pitch perfect social commentary, helps us to understand why they unquestioningly accepted Truman into their lives, only to be voiceless bystanders as he set alight the very world he was so desperate to be part of.

I loved it.

The Doll Factory By Elizabeth Macneal

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Elizabeth Macneal: The Doll Factory

Published By: Picador Books

Buy It: here

 

What The Blurb Says:

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal is the intoxicating story of a young woman who aspires to be an artist, and the man whose obsession may destroy her world for ever.

London. 1850. The greatest spectacle the city has ever seen is being built in Hyde Park, and among the crowd watching two people meet. For Iris, an aspiring artist, it is the encounter of a moment – forgotten seconds later, but for Silas, a collector entranced by the strange and beautiful, that meeting marks a new beginning.

When Iris is asked to model for pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost, she agrees on the condition that he will also teach her to paint. Suddenly her world begins to expand, to become a place of art and love.

But Silas has only thought of one thing since their meeting, and his obsession is darkening . . .

 

What I Say:

This year, for me, I have been determined to read more fiction which comes from those voices which may not previously have been heard.  I knew as soon as I read about The Doll Factory, and its story of a young woman who aspires to be an artist in Victorian London, that I had to read it.

From the first turn of the page, and our introduction to Silas, you are drawn into a darker world where collection and possession is the very lifeblood of the characters who weave their way through this thoroughly engrossing and immersive novel.

Silas spends his days in his curiosity shop perfecting his latest acquistions to be displayed and sold.  A young man at odds with his world and angry for people not understanding his talent, Silas is an unsavoury and menacing man who is desperate for recognition and for a connection with a woman. He is often visited by Albie, a young street urchin, who brings him the corpses of animals he needs, and is a street smart child on the look out for himself and his sister. Albie’s finds prove to be a useful way for Silas to enter the exclusive world of the notorious Pre-Raphaelite Painters, as he is able to procure a variety of props for them to use in their paintings.

The Doll Factory of the title refers to the Emporium where Iris and her sister Rose work for the awful Mrs Salter.  Iris paints the doll’s faces, while Rose sews the dolls clothing.  Both are struggling with their sense of worth and self – Iris has a clavicle which is twisted and Rose has been left with facial deformities after an illness.  Rose silently resents Iris, believing that she is in some way responsible for their current predicament. Trapped together and desperately unhappy, reliant on Mrs Salter for work, Iris yearns to be free to pursue her dreams of becoming a painter.

The ever magnificient, ever imposing London is readying itself for the spectacle of the Great Exhibition, which finally provides a chance for Silas to get the recognition he craves as he is desperate to get his latest taxidermy into the Exhibition – a double headed puppy.

It is there that Silas, thanks to Albie, finally meets Iris.  He believes that this striking woman with the bewitching red hair is is the one with whom he can ultimately connect. It is only a fleeting moment for Iris, but for Silas, it is life changing, and from that point on, Iris seeps into his consciousness and becomes the very thing Silas is desperate to possess.

When Louis, a Pre-Raphaelite Artist is looking for a model for his painting, Silas suggests Iris.  This being Victorian London, the very idea of modelling for an artist for an unmarried young woman has all sorts of ramifications and social implications.  It is simply not the done thing, and the shame that Iris would bring on her family for doing so is overwhelming.  However, Iris also knows that being given the opportunity to escape from the Doll’s Emporium for a chance to be near an artist would be life changing. She agrees to model for Louis on the condition that he teaches her to paint.

As she and Louis become closer, and cross the line from model and artist to lovers, Iris finds happiness in her new life until a revelation from Louis’ past threatens to unravel everything for them. Headstrong and passionate, Iris is unaware of Silas’ increasing obsession.  He finds alarmingly more outlandish and frightening ways of getting closer to her, with the aim of making Iris his ultimate experiment and complete possession. Albie is aware that Silas’ obsession is growing, but is powerless to do anything as Silas seeks to control him too.

The sublime skill of Elizabeth’s writing is that with every character, every plot twist, you become more and more deeply involved with this story.  Her detailed and unflinching descriptions of London and the worlds the characters inhabit, only serves to add to the tension and growing sense of unease that permeates this novel.

It is a story of outsiders, those who do not fit in with the world around them, and are searching for a way to belong.  Silas, Iris, Rose, Louis and Albie are all at odds with the society they live in, and each struggles with knowing that they are on the outside looking in. For Silas, it is finding a companion and feeling seen. For Iris, it is going against what is expected and being true to what she really wants from life.  Rose’s facial deformities and lack of husband leave her facing a life alone, on the perimeters of her world. Louis’ style of painting, as well as his views on marriage means that he is at odds with the society that he inhabits. Albie is surviving on his wits and street knowledge, and is desperate to belong, to feel part of a family.

Although it might seem that Silas is the man who wishes to possess Iris, I thought it went far deeper than that in The Doll Factory.  Iris is Louis’ model, and he in my mind also owned her in a way too. She was totally reliant on him for her new life, and without his favour and dotage, Iris always runs the risk of being the latest in a line of women who are useful until they are no longer needed, and a new muse arrives.

The Doll Factory is a novel which raises many questions about love, obsession, the perception and treatment of women, and the notion of what possession truly means. It is a novel in which you can only lose yourself and be in awe at the evocative descriptions and incredible characters who move in and out of the novel, drawing you in and keeping you there until the very last page.

Elizabeth Macneal has written an absolutely astounding debut novel. I could not turn the pages fast enough, but at the same time wanted to savour every last chapter. The Doll Factory is a novel I will telling everyone they need to read, and I am not going to forget Iris, Louis and even Silas for a very long time.

I loved it.

Thank you so much to Camilla Elworthy for my review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Star Crossed by Minnie Darke

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Minnie Darke: Star Crossed

Published by: Bantam Press

Buy It: here

 

What The Blurb Says:

Destiny doesn’t happen by accident . . .

When Justine Carmichael (Sagittarius, aspiring journalist and sceptic) bumps into her teenage crush Nick Jordan (Aquarius, struggling actor and true believer) it could be by chance. Or it could be written in the stars.

Justine works at the Alexandria Park Star – and Nick, she now learns, relies on the magazine’s astrology column to guide him in life.

Looking for a way to get Nick’s attention, Justine has the idea of making a few small alterations to the horoscope for Aquarius before it goes to print.

After all, it’s only the stars. What could possibly go wrong?

What I Say:

If I read my horoscopes, and it says wonderful things – of course I am in awe of the wisdom of the Astrologer. If it makes no sense at all, then of course it’s a load of rubbish and a waste of paper too.  How many of us sneak a peek at what the stars have in store for us, and tell others that we behave in a certain way because of the Star Sign personality we have.  By the way, I am a Scorpio, so that’s fiercely loyal and very protective thank you, and of course I read my stars regularly.

Minnie Darke’s exqusitely different novel asks us, what would happen, if someone altered the horoscopes to make a person fall in love with them.  Justine works at the Alexandria Park Star magazine and does not believe in horoscopes at all. Nick, her childhood boyfriend and aspiring actor believes in them passionately. When they meet by chance (or is it?) one day, Justine realises that she still has feelings for Nick, but is too scared to say anything – and after all, he now has an impossibly beautiful and picture perfect girlfriend.

As Justine watches Nick move further away from her, and with access to the magazine’s horoscopes, she decides just to alter Nick’s horoscope, Aquarius, so that when he reads it, he realises that Justine is the woman for him.  The thing is, and as we all know, life is never that easy…

What follows is a brilliantly imaginative story, that looks at how we may think we are able to determine our fate, but that maybe letting the stars determine them is far more fun.  Each chapter of Star Crossed is a different star sign, where we learn a little about astrology, but also, it gives us a glimpse into the lives of other people who have read the same horoscope as Nick, and how that impacts the choices they make too.  What we also see is that the same statement can be read in a thousand different ways according to who is reading it and what they are going through at the time.

What is also a clever plot device, and you probably guessed it from the title, that Nick is starring in a production of Romeo and Juliet – the original Star Crossed lovers, and it is a theme that runs throughout the whole novel too. Justine helps Nick to learn his lines and interviews the young actress who plays Juliet, and Nick inadvertently crashes another production where he has to stand in as Romeo.

This is one of the many things I loved about Star Crossed. It is just so different to anything I have picked up recently, and it is a joyous celebration of the power of love and that you may try and fight it, but apparently our fate is determined by a higher power whether we like it or not.  The story moves along quickly and at a cracking pace, and Minnie’s plot is a thing of beauty as it starts stories, ends them, you wonder why this character has been introduced, but as the novel gains momentum towards the end, it all finally makes sense. I loved how each story also brings new characters into the novel, but it never felt forced or superfluous to the main plot.

At the heart of Star Crossed is the story of Nick and Justine, and how really, they were always meant to be together, but they just didn’t know it. They are two really likeable characters, flawed, unsure and relatable, and I defy you not to read Star Crossed and shout at them to just get together and start the rest of their lives (I may have done this once or twice!). That is why this novel is so unique – as fate conspires to keep them apart, we understand that they need to go through all this heartache and missed opportunities to truly acknowledge what has been right in front of them from the first time they met

Star Crossed is just the novel I needed to read at the moment.  Sometimes I just want to read a novel that brings me joy, doesn’t upset me, and that in the end, shows that love conquers all (the fabulous dog Brown Houdini-Malarky was a brilliant addition to the plot too!).  Minnie Darke has written a truly wonderful novel, which is filled with characters I loved, a belief in the power of love, and is just simply heart warming to read. It would also be absolutely perfect for a film adaptation- just in case by any strange luck there are any film-makers reading this blog…

I really loved this novel, and I hope you do too.

Thank you so much to Hannah Bright at Transworld for my gifted copy of Star Crossed, and for asking me to be part of the Blog Tour.

You’ve read what I thought, now follow the rest of the other Bloggers to find out what they thought…

 

 

A Perfect Explanation by Eleanor Anstruther

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Eleanor Anstruther: A Perfect Explanation

Published By: Salt Publishing

Buy It: here

What The Blurb Says:

Exploring themes of ownership and abandonment, Eleanor Anstruther’s debut is a fictionalised account of the true story of Enid Campbell (1892–1964), granddaughter of the 8th Duke of Argyll.

Interweaving one significant day in 1964 with a decade during the interwar period, A Perfect Explanation gets to the heart of what it is to be bound by gender, heritage and tradition, to fight, to lose, to fight again. In a world of privilege, truth remains the same; there are no heroes and villains, only people misunderstood. Here, in the pages of this extraordinary book where the unspoken is conveyed with vivid simplicity, lies a story that will leave you reeling.

 

What I Say:

“There was too much life, it was too fragile, it hung on a finger-point of God.  It was before her, in all its endless maybes – a thousand ways to travel, a trip on the stair, an heir ruined, another child she couldn’t love for fear of loving,”

Often you read a novel and are in awe of the creativity and depth of characterisation that a novelist has revealed during their novel. In A Perfect Explanation, Eleanor Anstruther has brought to life a story that comes from her own family history and this novel is even richer for it.  Eleanor’s Grandmother, Enid, sold her youngest son Ian to her sister Joan for £500.  Having been given permission to write this novel before her father died, Eleanor brings to life her family’s incredible and unforgettable history.

It is told from three viewpoints – that of Enid, Joan and Enid’s daughter Finetta.  The story moves between two timelines, from 1921-1931 and 1964. At the start of the novel, we meet Enid, who is living in a Christian Science nursing home and is waiting for Finetta to make her weekly visit. The other chapters help us to understand what brought Enid to this place, and why she is so estranged from her family.

We learn that after the First World War, Enid has lost her brother and father, and in order for the family to hold onto their title, it is up to Enid to ensure that the family line continues.  Her mother Sybil is unrelenting in her desire to ensure that the family holds on to their title and social standing.  Enid’s desires and dreams are buried in order to ensure Sybil gets what she wants, and she marries the teenage Douglas as a means to satisfy everyone.

Enid’s sister Joan is not married and is really not interested in doing so either, as we later learn she is contented in her relationship with a woman called Pat.  As time moves on for Enid, we see her overwhelmed and emotionally disconnected, a mother of three children, living in Southern England and absolutely bewildered as to how she has ended up there.   

To the modern reader, I think we are able to see that Enid is suffering from post-natal depression and is in a marriage that is purely one of convenience. Her husband tries to reach her, but as Enid disengages from him, he instead starts an affair and spends as much time as possible away from the marital home. When her eldest son Fagus has a life changing accident, Enid is consumed by self doubt and anxiety. You really get a sense from the powerful and beautifully understated language that Eleanor uses, that it seems Enid is half inhabiting an ever changing world where everything is going on around her and she is not really present. There is an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia and hopelessness for Enid, and as a reader, at that point, I felt desperately sad for her.

Then one day, unable to live this life any longer, Enid simply gets up, and walks away from it all.

She finds solace initally in Christian Science at Didlington Hall, and falls gratefully into being part of the church community and doing repetitive and mundane tasks which mean that she can block out the enormity of what she has done.  Meanwhile, back at the family home, Donald, Sybil and Joan are left with the damage that Enid has created, and the children are shattered and bewildered by what their mother has done.

As the narrative moves on, the cracks in the Anstruther family come to the fore.  Enid and Joan have no relationship and simply do not have anything in common apart from the children.  After having been away for a long time, Enid decides to return and take back her remaining two children, as Fagus is now in a boarding school that can give him the attention he deserves.

Enid is horrified to realise that Joan provides the stability and routine for Ian and Finetta that she simply is unable to provide, and she attempts to try to take them back.  This for me was one of the most upsetting parts of the novel, as the children are forced to stay with a Mother who really doesn’t understand how to be the Mother they want.  Enid is purely focused on Ian, as the surviving heir. Her desperation to have Ian back and her desire to make sure he absolutely loves her, means that Finetta seems to be the forgotten child, a footnote to the custody case who moves back and forth with Ian but is never really listened to or heard.

I have to say that my sympathy shifted from Enid during the story.  Initially I was shocked by how alone and misunderstood she was, but as the novel moves on, I felt that her desire to have Ian back in her life was more to hold her family to ransom as it emerges she is running out of money, as oppose to a genuine desire to love him.

As the novel brings us back to 1964, and a devastating reunion between the remaining members of the Anstruther family, it seems that things will never be the same again, and Enid will finally be forced to confront the brutal realities of her heartbreaking decisions.

A Perfect Explanation is a novel that looks at a world we have left behind, a world where lineage, familial pride and privilege meant so much more that someone’s happiness.  It is also a brilliant examination of women’s place in society, and how any who did not fit into the prescribed roles laid out for them are seen as being misfits and unstable, as oppose to individuals who were simply trying to live the life they wanted to.

Eleanor Anstruther has written an astounding debut novel that bravely and completely brings to life a difficult family history. It also deftly holds up a mirror to our own world and asks us who are we to judge, when behind closed doors our family may not be as perfect as we like to show to the outside world either.

 I loved it.

Thank you very much to Agnes Rowe and Salt Publishing for my copy of A Perfect Explanation in exchange for an honest review.

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Eleanor Anstruther was born in London, educated in Westminster and read History of Art at Manchester University before travelling the world. 

Website : www.eleanoranstruther.com

Twitter: @ellieanstruther

Instagram: @eleanoranstruther